Shetland's Festival Year
In a normal year, Shetland plays host to a range of festivals and larger-scale events for all ages. While many of these won’t take place in 2021, it is advisable to book ahead if you want to visit in 2022 or beyond. The dates mentioned are all provisional and subject to change.
Here's a brief outline of some of the more well-known events...
Photo: Gordon Siegel JANUARY-MARCH: The urge to celebrate hits Shetland early each year with the most spectacular of its festivals, Lerwick Up-Helly-A’ on the last Tuesday in January. This is Europe’s biggest fire festival, with a thousand “guizers” carrying flaming torches and burning a full-sized replica Viking galley. This is preceded in mid-January by Scalloway Fire Festival, then followed by another eight through February and March in communities across the isles.
MARCH: Shetland County Drama Festival takes to the boards of Lerwick’s Garrison Theatre for four days of theatrical offerings to cater for all tastes, and the Schools Music Festival takes place in Mareel.
APRIL/MAY: Shetland’s musical tradition is showcased perfectly by the high quality local and international musicians who take part in the renowned Shetland Folk Festival, held all over the isles. Advanced booking is advised. The weekend before sees the isles’ young fiddlers compete for Shetland Folk Society ‘s Young Fiddler of the Year title.
JUNE sees the Midsummer Carnival in Lerwick, featuring brightly-clad floats and a fancy dress parade. Also the Simmer Dim Rally, where motorcyclists from all over the world congregate in Ollaberry. The biggest ocean yacht racing event in the North Sea is the Bergen-Shetland Race with yachts in Lerwick around the last weekend of the month.
Photo: Chris Brown JULY: Shetland Nature Festival features guided walks, children’s activities, wildlife workshops and adventure activities like exploring the seabird haven of Noss. UnstFest on Britain’s most northerly island has a whole week of fun activities and events. Last but not least in July is Folk Frenzy, featuring concerts and workshops celebrating Shetland’s music.
AUGUST: Shetland Boat Week, based around the Shetland Museum, showcases Shetland’s marine heritage and includes boat trips, tours, children’s activities and demonstrations of traditional skills. Screenplay Film Festival attracts internationally renowned film professionals to take part in lectures, screenings and discussions, based at Mareel. The Shetland Agricultural Shows take place at Voe, Walls, Cunningsburgh, Unst and Yell.
SEPTEMBER features Shetland Wool Week, a celebration of the islands’ high quality yarn, the craftspeople who use it to make incredible products and the native sheep from which it originates. This festival includes classes, exhibitions and tours.
Photo: Richard Ashbee OCTOBER: The Taste of Shetland Festival at Clickimin Centre celebrates Shetland’s food and drink offering, with demonstrations from high-profile chefs, a wide range of stalls from local producers and samples of Shetland’s finest ingredients. The Shetland Accordion and Fiddle Festival is held over five days, with traditional Scottish dance music played by musicians from around the globe and ending with one of the UK’s biggest traditional dances.
NOVEMBER: Wordplay is Shetland Arts book festival at Mareel, featuring international, national and local writers and a mix of workshops, children’s activities, book signings and readings. This month also sees the annual Craft Fair at Clickimin that showcases the extraordinary skills of local artists, designers and makers. The products range from traditional to modern, from knitwear to furniture, all inspired by our island home.
DECEMBER: The year is rounded off by the Lerwick Winter Festival and Christmas Parade, featuring local musicians, competitions, the spectacular arrival of Santa by lifeboat, and Christmas lights.
by Steve Mathieson